You do not have to be a lawyer to know the order: first you file a case, and then you get a trial date. Right? Well, in Madison County, Illinois, a “Futures Market” of asbestos lawsuits developed when Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder declared a Preliminary Order allowing plaintiff firms in asbestos cases to reserve trial dates before a case had even been filed.
Crowder, a Democratic circuit judge in an area where judges are elected positions, was removed from asbestos cases after her campaign received $30,000 in donations from three plaintiff firms that were awarded the majority of next year’s trial slots. Judge Crowder had granted those three firms; Simmons of Alton and Goldenberg and Gori and Julian of Edwardsville, 82 percent of those trial slots for 2013. The trial reservation system’s original purpose was in order to resolve local asbestos lawsuits.
(See also: Types of Lung Cancer)
On March 29, 2012, Associate Judge Clarence Harrison overturned Judge Barbara Crowder’s preliminary orders assigning the 2013 trial slots. Harrison’s order also calls for trials to be set by motion on a case by case basis and preference to be given to the elderly and the dying. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as other business advocates, complained that plaintiff lawyers use the slots as a national marketing tool to attract asbestos clients who have little or no connection to Illinois. Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, stated:
“We applaud Judge Harrison for ending Madison County’s long-standing and troubling practice of assigning asbestos trial slots to plaintiffs’ lawyers rather than to individual plaintiffs… This system created an asbestos lawsuit futures market of immense value and was at the root of the ‘cash-for-trials’ scandal that led to the reassignment of the docket’s previous presiding judge.”
Travis Akin, an Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Director, called the order to end the pre-assignments as a “major breakthrough” for reform:
“For too long, judges have allowed Metro-East courts to be turned into a destination docket for personal injury lawyers from all across the country to clog our courts with cases to be heard…It’s bad enough that Judge Crowder’s actions to give future trial slots to big campaign cases that haven’t even been filed. This ill-advised practice is now coming to an end. I applaud Judge Harrison for his decision to end the trial ‘reservation’ system.”
A local news outlet, the Madison Record, ran a story on March 31, 2012, decrying the fact that the glutton of asbestos cases is costing the local residence precious tax dollars. The story, headlined, “An obese asbestos trial calendar is draining your tax dollars”, outlined the need for more substantial reform:
Now more than 60 asbestos defendant companies are trying to convince her successor, Associate Judge Clarence Harrison, that the court’s trial reservation system is in dire need of reform. ‘Without reform, Madison County will unfortunately continue as the destination for asbestos cases arising from coast to coast,’ their brief warns. In other words, our supply is creating the demand. And your tax dollars are paying for that courtroom feeding frenzy.
Judge Crowder maintains that there is no connection between asbestos firms who have donated money to her campaign, and her decisions as the asbestos judge. Judge Crowder has since returned the donations, and has been reassigned to hear chancery, miscellaneous remedies and eminent domain cases.
Another question we might ask is, what if asbestos causes cancer twice?